Plastic-free Products: Toys

Natural Rubber Duck

We come back to the subject of natural toys often. When the main motivation for choosing toys is to make them plastic-free, I see three main options for materials: wood, natural rubber, and cloth. There are so many great, natural toys available that no child needs plastic toys. It’s just not necessary.


Wood

Habab Kringelring wooden baby rattleBefore there was hard plastic for toys, there was wood. When I lived in western New York, a friend of mine worked at Fisher Price. I wasn’t that keen to hear about her work because I wasn’t about to use the plastic toys. I remembered their classic wooden toys from my own childhood, though, so I poked and prodded her about that every once in a while asking, “When are you going to start making wooden toys again?” She told me about the wooden prototypes made now to test new toy ideas. “Can I get those?” No, sadly, even those toys that had been classic wooden toys were all made out of plastic and I was not allowed to see, touch, or take home any wooden prototypes. What’s the mental block against a return to the toys that worked so well for so long?

ByNature.ca carries a lot of clicky, clacky, colorful Haba toys. Most of them are rattles and chew toys or both. We also carry the simplest baby toy, a wooden egg shaker, and quite a few little wooden cars and wheeled animals.


Natural Rubber

Sophie the GiraffeWhen my daughter was very young, I realized that her rubber ducky wasn’t rubber. It was made from stinky, cheap old plastic. I was very unpopular when I removed the Plastic Ducky from bathtime for all time. Long after the sting of removing the toxic toy wore off, my daughter found a natural rubber duck (the one shown above) and embraced it as part of her healthy pre-teen lifestyle. She told me that a rubber duck was one toy she had always wanted. As a therapist friend of mine says, it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.

Natural rubber is what early soft plastics were trying to be. Then there was the plastic goo we call Silly Putty. I wrote about the development of rubber-like plastics and the benefits of natural rubber toys last year. Sophie the Giraffe has been handmade of natural rubber for over 50 years, and she’s gaining in popularity. We’ve come full circle back to natural rubber, which never actually went away.


Cloth

Large Waldorf Doll ManouAh, that new doll smell. Your child falls asleep hugging her doll and sniffing that vinyl chloride. No, that’s not a pretty picture. It’s easy to replace plastic dolls with fabric dolls appropriate to any age. ByNature.ca has a collection of organic cotton teething toys and stuffed animals, whose knotted and firm feet and hands are perfect for chewing babies, and we also have small (12″) Waldorf natural baby dolls. The doll my daughter loves and adores for all time is a cotton and wool Waldorf doll of this size.

One of my favorite natural alternatives to common plastic toys is felt play food for playing house, restaurant, store, and so on.

Play cloths are everything in my family. They are wings, capes, rivers, Halloween costumes, decorations, gift wrapping, and more. They aren’t really a replacement for a plastic toy, but I guess they could be seen as an alternative to one-time use or single-purpose off-gassing Halloween costumes or plastic hats or so many other toys that require a little less imagination in play. Having a cape and a collection of silk play cloths around means that you have a huge variety of costumes and toys that take up almost no space. No space means great for travel, by the way.

Art Supplies

Natural Crayon RocksThere is a place that plasticizers used to sneak into children’s toys, before certain phthalates were banned in children’s products in the U.S., where parents didn’t necessarily think to look for them: art supplies. Kids eat glue and paint, they suck on crayons while they dream of their masterpieces. It’s important to have non-toxic children’s art supplies. ByNature.ca stocks a beautiful collection of Clementine art supplies.

I’ve written a lot about toys made with natural materials as alternatives to plastic toys. It might help to completely throw out ideas about toys and start over with games and natural toys that nurture imagination rather than just trying to find a substitute for a plastic toy.

This week we’ve also suggested plastic-free feeding and plastic-free sleeping products for children. These are Eco Baby Steps, but this is still a STUFF-oriented approach. At the end of June, I will write about how and why we need to make much bigger changes to leave plastics and their toxic chemicals of concern behind us.

Baby Product Profile: Tres Tria

Zac and KidsContinuing our occasional series of product manufacturer profiles (Beco, Peekaru, and Peapod Creations came earlier this year), this week we feature Zac Carter of Tres Tria, a product of Better for Babies. After our post about natural rubber in toys, I was really curious about how the Tres Tria co-sleeping pillow came about. Zac and Leah Carter spoke to me about their research and development.

Tres Tria is three in Latin, as in three in a family bed or co-sleeping with parents and child.

When Zac and Leah Carter moved back to the U.S. after living in Wales, they left their bedside co-sleeper there because they didn’t really use it. That left them without anything at all to use when they got home to Georgia with their toddler. They tried using a bolster from the back of a daybed, but it rolled awkwardly. Zac knew what he wanted, but he hadn’t seen a pillow semi cylinder-shaped before.


Developing a Natural Rubber Pillow

For a lot of Better for Babies products, Leah creates a version then Zac refines it and sells Leah on the changes. For a lot of Better for GrownUps products, Zac comes up with the ideas. Tres Tria was one of these. Zac did the research and development.

Tres Tria prototypeHe knew he wanted a product that is all natural. Most rubber products include synthetics for strength. Since he had no intention of adding synthetic materials to the pillow, he had to choose a method of creating the pillow that would give him the most strength natural rubber could provide. There are two potential processes to get a natural rubber shape: carve from a slab or mold. He chose the mold. In order to determine just the right firmness, he had to start with the final shape.

From the prototype photos, it looks like shape was the fun part. Zac created cardboard prototypes, experimenting with various heights and curves and lengths to get the shape as it remains today. “As soon as we found that shape, even with the cardboard,” he said, “we instantly knew that it was going to be a thing that people would love.”

With the shape then the firmness in place, along with rubber harvested from Thailand, the rubber is molded close to the source in Asia. I learned while researching natural rubber toys that it is better to make rubber products close to the source. If rubber has to travel any distance, it requires the addition of ammonia as a stabilizer.


Natural Materials

A lot of customers find Tres Tria because of the natural rubber, certified Natural Latex Rubber by the Eco Umwelt Institut, and organic cotton, certified organic and sustainable by Control Union Certifications and certified fair trade by the Fair Trade Labeling Organization. “All of our customers were looking for something natural,” Zac told me, “and we knew they would love this as much as we do.”

With natural materials, one of the properties we look for is a material that will break down, that will biodegrade. I asked Zac if this means rubber requires special care. Sunlight, he said, can break down the rubber, but this won’t happen if the cover is on the pillow. Tres Tria comes with an inner cover that doesn’t come off—so it protects the pillow from the sun—and a soft, organic cotton outer cover that zips off for cleaning.


Changing Lives

Tres Tria co-sleeping pillowAre there unexpected ways Zac has seen Tres Tria make the lives of their customers easier? He has seen the product make a big difference as it helped co-sleeping families to sleep through the night and not experience sleep deprivation. Because they are sleeping with their infants and not worrying about being up so much at night, he says,

It is so nice to be able to have a different story to tell. It’s nice to have memories of your baby that aren’t about a stressful period. You end up having an extra bond with your child. Our relationship with both of our kids seems to be stronger because of co-sleeping.”


New, Great Products

Finally, I asked if there are any new, great products in the works for Better for Babies or Better for GrownUps. Better for GrownUps recently launched a line of reusable organic cotton family tissues, facial rounds, and wipes. They are working on more great 100% reusable products for families. Zac is writing about the history of the handkerchief, giving fascinating context to their natural living choices.